Students return to Yemin Orde, month after Carmel fire

The boarding school is home to more than 500 youths from 16 countries; around 40 percent of the buildings were destroyed by the blaze.

311_Burn out remains of Yemin Orde (photo credit: Associated Press)
311_Burn out remains of Yemin Orde
(photo credit: Associated Press)
A month after the Carmel wildfire tore through the Yemin Orde youth village, hundreds of students returned to their homes at the boarding school on Thursday.
They have gone through a whirlwind renovation process aided by a windfall of assistance from Israel and abroad.
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The day began with a procession from nearby Moshav Nir Etzion to the Yemin Orde synagogue to return nine Torah scrolls that were spirited out of the house of worship as the flames closed in. The procession was led by a pick-up truck blaring religious songs set to a disco beat from its rooftop speakers as teachers and students danced the hora and carried the Torah scrolls under a huppa.
Over the past month, Yemin Orde’s students stayed at the soldiers’ home in Beit Olga near Hadera. Each morning, they would take a 6 a.m. bus to make it by 8 a.m. to the Yemin Orde school, which was not damaged in the fire, and then back to Beit Olga at the end of the day.
Yemin Orde is home to more than 500 youths from 16 countries, as well as their Israeli teachers and guides, many of whom are post-army or performing national service.
While most of the village’s students are from families in Israel and abroad, many are orphans from the former Soviet Union between the ages of nine and 19.
Yemin Orde director Benny Fisher said that having the children back home was essential to providing them the framework they needed to succeed.
“Routine is very important for the pupils; it helps give them the security and stability they need to focus on their studies and their day-to-day lives,” he said.
Fisher said he had mixed feelings on Thursday – both joy that the students were able to return to their homes and a lingering sadness caused by the devastation the fire caused throughout Mount Carmel.
“We’re happy to have them back home; it’s a changed home, but home nonetheless.”
Fisher said that around 40 percent of the buildings at the boarding school were destroyed, most of them houses belonging to staff and faculty.
Other ravaged buildings included the library, student dormitories, a workshop and a convenience store.
Fisher said the village suffered around NIS 30 million in damage, about half of which is covered by insurance. While the village looks quite different than it did immediately after the fire, it will still take about two years for it to return to its former glory, he said.
Nonetheless, on Thursday the scorched village of a month ago was hard to recognize. A number of dormitories looked better than ever, having already undergone complete floor-to-ceiling renovations, and the presence of children clowning around on the muddy pathways provided a sense of normalcy.
Fisher said he expects the staff members who have been staying at Nir Etzion’s hotel to be able to return by the end of the month, when caravan homes arrive at the boarding school.
The fire took its hardest toll on the staff homes – nine of which were completely destroyed in the fire, including the homes of the village rabbi and the high-school principal. An additional three were rated a “total loss” by the insurance companies.
Altogether, 58 staff members and their families lost their homes and all of their possessions when they were evacuated as the fire closed in.
The scene was a little less festive next to a playground in the village, where more than two dozen detective- course cadets from the police academy in Shfaram helped a staff member, Orit, clean out a shipping container that had been broken into and vandalized the night before. The container is one of several holding the belongings of students and staff members waiting to return to their homes. On Thursday, the container was a ransacked mess of scattered belongings, which the cadets helped clean and sort until they had to leave.
Orit said the cadets had come to Yemin Orde to volunteer in the rebuilding, just as “every day over the past month there have been people coming from all over to volunteer – soldiers, police, you name it.”
The cadets and their volunteer effort was symptomatic of a bittersweet reality that has come in the wake of the Carmel fire. Though the fire left behind death and destruction, it also revealed an outpouring of generosity, shown in a deluge of charitable donations and volunteer work powered by elbow grease.
This mixed reality was typified by Yemin Orde resident Rachel Hazan, who fled the village with her husband, Haim, shortly before their house was burned to the ground. The Hazans were not able to take anything with them, and have been staying in a small rental apartment.
Hazan, who worked for more than 50 years as a nurse at Yemin Orde, was one of the first residents of the village, arriving in 1953, two years after she made aliya from Morocco at the age of 11 without her parents.
With tears welling in her eyes, Hazan took out a journal full of names, addresses and phone numbers.
She explained how “over the past month, every time someone heard about our story, they wrote all their details here, begging us to come stay with them, bring them our laundry, come for Shabbat – people we’ve never spoken to, people who don’t know us at all.”